Archive for the ‘temporaalsus’ Category

Stephan Käufer “Temporality as the Ontological Sense of Care”

November 26, 2015 Leave a comment

Käufer, Stephan 2013. Temporality as the Ontological Sense of Care. – Wrathall, Mark A. (ed). The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger’s Being and Time. New York: Cambridge University Press, 338-359.

[…] temporality is the transcendental condition of existence, that it unifies the various aspects of existence, and that it constitutes the structure of the self. (339)

[…] the sense, the „upon which“ Heidegger wants to make explicit in paragraph 65 is not the sense of this or that type of entity, but the sense of the understanding of being in general. (341)

[…] the question about the „sense of care“ is about Dasein’s self-understanding. (341)

Inauthentic Dasein identifies itself with a role or profession (college professor), while authentic Dasein identifies itself entirely as being-possible. So authentic existence comprises a thoroughgoing self-identification with being-possible. (342)

Nevertheless, Heidegger does not reject the notion of the self altogether. His point in paragraph 64 is that the self is not a substrate, but that selfhood is already implicit in the care-structure. To understand the self, we must interpret the care structure more carefully: „Fully understood, the care structure includes the phenomenon of selfhood within it.“ (343)

This phenomenon of being your beenness Heidegger calls the originary past. And, finally, resolute being-amidst entities is only possible in making present or „enpresenting“ these entities. This enpresenting is the originary present. With coming-toward, having-been, and enpresenting, Heidegger thus points out three aspects of originary temporality. He calls these the temporal „ecstases“, in order to emphasize their character of „standing beyond“. Together they form the „unitary phenomenon“ of temporality. (345)

[…] Heidegger spells out two consequences of his conception of originary temporality: first, that the future has priority over the past and present; and second that originary temporality is finite. Both of these highlight a more basic claim, that originary temporality is not to be conceived in terms of ordinary notions of time as a flow or sequence of moments. In the ordinary conception, time is infinite, and the future does not have priority. Although Heidegger calls the originary ecstatic unity „temporality“, he is quite explicit that he does not mean time in any straightforward sense. Time as we ordinarily think of it is not originary because it is derivative from, that is, arises out of, orignary temporality. (345)

The transcendental claim is that any comportment toward particular, factical possibilities (compare: empirical synthesis) presupposes the general ability (compare: pure synthesis) to disclose possibilities as possibilities and constitute them within a horizon of possible Mirzugehörigkeit, that is, disclose them as possibly mine. This general ability is originary temporality. (351)

Here is a good way to characterize Heidegger’s transcendental claim in analogy to Kant. For Kant, the empirical synthesis provide us with determinate representations. These are made possible by the pure temporal order in which representations can have their determinacy. For Heidegger, care discloses the world as meaningful, constituted by solicitations and purposes. These are made possible by the temporal ecstases that first constitute you as a discloser in such a way that the possibilities can be yours and the solicitations have a grip on you. (352)

[…] Heidegger analyzes the self as an existential structure that is already implicit in care, that is, a self that consists of ability-to-be and disposedness. (354)

Part of the concept of a self is that it stands in a relation to itself in which it identifies itself as itself. In Kant and in most of the philosophical tradition, this self-relation is cognitive. In fact, Kant claims that there are two types of self-identification. On the one hand, „through inner sense we intuit ourselves only as we are internally affected by out selves, i.e. as far as inner intuition is concerned we cognize our own subject only as appearance but not in accordance with what it is in itself“. On the other hand, „in the synthetic unity of apperceptionm I am conscious of myself not as I appear to myself, nor as I am in myself, but only that I am. This is a thinking, not an intuiting.“ So we know ourselves both as we appear to ourselves in intuition and as the subject of thinking the unifies experience. This doubling of self-consciousness is a special case of the transcendental idealism that underlies Kant’s analysis of cognition in general. (355)

In contrast to Kant and the tradition, Heidegger argues that self-identification is not a cognitive but an existential one: „The self must be able to identify itself as existing. It must be able to understand itself in every concrete instance as the self-same futural-having-been, uniting the resolve to a possibility and the commitment to the past. This displacing-yourself-into-yourself (Sich-in-sich-versetzen), extending into all dimensions of temporality, makes up the real concept, the existential concept of self-identification.“ (355; Heidegger, 395)

The only possibility that is unavoidably yours is this paradoxical one – that you exist as being-possible, as projecting and pressing into possibilities, without being able to safely be any one of the possibilities you disclose. This is death, the „unsurpassable“ and „ownmost“ possibility. In disclosing possibilities, you also understand this „nullity“ that you cannot safely be any of your possibilities. Originary temporality is finite because you come toward yourself against the background of the limit or impossibility of your existence. „The originary and authentic future is the toward-yourself, toward your self, existing as the unsurpassable possibility of nullity.“ (357)

William Blattner “Temporality”

November 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Blattner, William 2005. Temporality. – Dreyfus, Hubert L. and Mark A. Wrathall (eds). A Companion to Heidegger. Malden; Oxford; Victoria: Blackwell Publishing, 311-324.

Being and Timesets out to “pose anew the question concerning the sense of being” (SZ: 1). To answer this question, to say something about what being means, requires us to acknowledge the role of time: time is the “horizon of all understanding of being,” i.e. being makes sense in terms of time. (311)

[…] for Heidegger “time” refers ultimately to something more fundamental than time as ordinarily conceived. It refers to originary temporality. Time is not the abstract “container” that we imagine “clock-time” to be, but a basic structure of Dasein’s being. (311)

Existence is that aspect of Dasein’s being that it always is what it understands itself to be. Dasein understands itself by projecting itself forward into some way of life, or as Heidegger puts it, possibility of being. (312)

Facticity is that aspect of Dasein’s being that it is concrete or determinate. Facticity is Dasein’s distinctive form of factuality. This determinateness discloses itself to Dasein through affectivity, which is the way things matter to Dasein. Everything Dasein encounters, from the most significant and oppressive events of one’s life, to the most trivial and irrelevant, matter to it. (313)

Existence and facticity do not just both happen to characterize Dasein’s being. Rather, they are equally important (“equiprimordial”) and interwoven. In II.2 of Being and TimeHeidegger describes facticity as the ground or basis (Grund) of existence. That is, we project forth into the possibilities we pursue becausethey matter to us as they do. I press ahead into being a father becauseit is fulfilling, into being a teacher becauseit is rewarding. If those possibilities did not matter to me as they do, I wouldn’t pursue them. (313)

Finally, the third element of Dasein’s being (of the “care structure”) and of disclosedness is falling. Before diving into a description of falling, however, we must cut through a significant terminological ambiguity in Being and Time. On the one hand, falling refers to Dasein’s tendency to fall away fromauthenticity and ontothe world of its mundane concerns in fleeing from the anxiety of a confrontation with death. On the other hand, it names Dasein’s essential encounter withand absorption innon-human things in the course of pursuing its possibilities. Equipment, paraphernalia, gear (das Zeug) are available (zuhanden) to Dasein as it goes about its daily business. (313)

“Future” does not here mean a Now, which not yethaving become “actual,” sometime will be, but rather the coming in which Dasein comes toward itself in its ownmost ability-tobe. (SZ: 325) Temporalizing does not mean a “succession” [“Nacheinander”] of the ecstases. The future is not laterthan beenness, and this is not earlierthan the present [Gegenwart]. (SZ: 350) In other words, Dasein’s possibilities are not the sorts of items that can be actualized in the present. I never can have become a musician, even though I am now pressing ahead into being one. I call this claim the Unattainability Thesis (Blattner 1999). (314)

In II.1 Heidegger defines death as the “possibility of the impossibility of existence” and characterizes it as a “way to be Dasein.” Heideggerian death is a way to be Dasein and, therefore, not non-existence per se. The latter, the end or ending of a human life, Heidegger calls “demise” (Ableben), in contrast with death (Tod). For clarity’s sake, I will call Heideggerian death “existential death.” Existential death is the condition in which Dasein is not able to be or exist, in the sense that it cannot understand itself, press ahead into any possibilities of being. Existential death is a peculiar sort of living nullity, death in the midst of life, nothingness. (315)

To tie all this together, Heidegger accords the phenomenon of existential death ontological importance, because it signals something about the very nature of human possibilities. If existential death looms constantly as a threat to who I am, then who I am, my possibilities, can never characterize me in any settled way. If they did, then I could never find myself unableto be them. Hence, my originary future is not the sort of thing that can bepresent, not a property that can positively characterize me in the way in which a determinate height or hair color, or even a determinate social status, can characterize me. It is a future that is not later than, that does not succeed, the present. (315)

Just as the “ahead” in “being-ahead-of-itself” describes a future that can never come to be present, so Heidegger argues that the “already” in “being-already in a world” picks out a past that never was present. Dasein’s originary past is, recall, its attunements, the way things already matter to it. I am always already “thrown” into the world and into my life, because I am always attuned to the way it matters to me. […] My attunements were not at one time present, after which they slipped into the past. Rather, at every moment that an attunement characterizes me, even at its first moment, I am already thrown into it; it is already past. (315)

Time as we encounter it in our everyday experience is not originary. How do we encounter time in our everyday experience? Heidegger distinguishes, in fact, two sorts of everyday time, world-timeand time as ordinarily conceived. Time as we ordinarily conceiveit (der vulgäre Zeitbegriff) is time as the pure container of events. Heidegger may well build the term “conceive” into its name, because he wants to emphasize that when we disengage from our ordinary experience and talk about and contemplate time as such, we typically interpret time as such a pure container, as the continuous medium of natural change. When we are pre-theoretically engaged with time, however, we experience it as world-time. World-time is the sequence of meaningfully articulated,
everyday times: dinner time, bed time, rush hour, the Great Depression, the Cold War Era, the 1960s, and the like. (316)

World-time differs from ordinary time in that the times of world-time are overtly defined in terms of their relation to human interests, whereas ordinary times are conceptualized as independent of human interests. (316)

World-time is world-time, both because it is the time in which worldly events are measured and ordered, and because it belongs to the very structure of the world. The world, in Heidegger’s technical sense, is the concrete social milieu in which the available has its place and in terms of which human beings understand themselves, hence in which human beings lead their lives. (This is the world in the onticexistentiell sense, sense 3, defined on SZ: 65, as elaborated in ¶18.) As Heidegger writes, the world is “that ‘in which’ a factical Dasein ‘lives’” (SZ: 65). (317)

Ordinary time, however, is the pure flow of clock-time, meaningless, empty, and potentially precise. It is, as Heidegger says, a “pure succession” (SZ: 422). The characteristic “datability” and “significance” of world-time are missing. (317)

„There is, in itself, the possibility that humans not be at all. There indeed was a time when humans were not. But strictly speaking, we cannot say: there was a time when humans were not. In every time, humans were and are and will be, because time only temporalizes itself in so far as humans are. There is no time in which humans were not, not because humans are from eternity and to eternity, but rather because time is not eternity, and time only temporalizes itself in each case in every time as human-historical.” (Intro to Metaphysics: 64) (317-318)

Time is not an entity, but rather an ontological structure. For this reason Heidegger rarely says of time that it “is,” except when he is articulating a common or even philosophical misconception. Rather, he uses the verb sich zeitigen, which in ordinary German means “to ripen” or “come to fruition.” (318)

Just as ordinary time is a leveled off version of world-time, so world-time is a leveled off form of originary temporality. Just as immediately above, we have a reduction in complexity or features, a narrowing down of understanding from a full-blooded phenomenon to one that is thinner. In this case, however, the thinning out is not the thinning of a now. Originary temporality, after all, does not consist of nows. Rather, we have a disconnection of the now from the ontological horizon in terms of which it makes sense. (319)

Heidegger calls the ecstasis of the originary present enpresenting (Gegenwärtigen, making-present). The horizon of enpresenting is, Heidegger says, the in-order-to (SZ: 365). The in-order-tois Heidegger’s general term for the involvement relation that binds the available to the human practices in terms of which they make sense and are defined. Contact cement is involved in home repair, because it is in order to bind objects together. The in-order-to constitutes the significance of the available. Various uses of equipment are appropriate or inappropriate only in virtue of the equipment’s defining in-order-to relation. It is, furthermore, only in terms of the web of in-order-to relations that nows themselves can be significant. Significance, the worldliness of the world (die Weltlichkeit der Welt), is constituted by the in-order-to. This in-order-to is made accessible to Dasein in enpresenting. (319)

We can recognize phenomenologically that the now experienced in engaged everyday practice is part of a larger whole, the whole that is the care-structure of Dasein. Heidegger calls the structural unity of care originary temporality. When we considered this above, however, we quickly arrived at the question of why originary temporality should be thought of as a sort of timeat all. Heidegger answers by showing how if we do classify originary temporality as a form of time, we are able to explain aspects of ordinary time that otherwise remain mysterious, such as its continuity. The continuity of natural time is the way in which natural times stretch back to their immediate predecessors and forward to their immediate successors. This continuity or unbrokenness of natural time remains a brute fact about time, unless we can explain it metaphysically. For this reason, metaphysicians have long sought to do so, but always failed. Heidegger’s suggestion is, then, to explain the continuity of natural time as a reduced or leveled off form of the span of world-time. The spannedness of world-time, what is more, is merely a leveled off form of the inherent unity of originary temporality, the way in which the originary future and originary past are intrinsically bound up with one another and with the originary present, which opens up the now for us. In short, originary temporality should be called a form of time, because it is explanatorily fruitful to do so. “Apotiori fit denominatio”: the name derives from the more powerful (SZ: 329). (Heidegger believes, moreover, that he can offer explanations of the irreversibility and infinitude of time as well.) (321)

Therefore, Heidegger aims in one stroke to answer two central questions: why call originary temporality “time,” and why hold that time is dependent upon originary temporality? In both cases, the answer is that the three varieties of time (originary temporality, world-time, ordinary time) form a degenerating series. If we view ordinary time as a thinned out version of world-time, and if we regard world-time as a disconnected abstraction from originary temporality, we gain explanatory leverage on time. We can now see why ordinary time is continuous, infinite, and irreversible, where beforehand these were bald mysteries. Moreover, if we accept this account in terms of degeneration, we have an excellent reason to regard originary temporality as a form of time: it is a fuller and explanatorily more fundamental form of time. (321)

The concept of historicality aims to capture the distinctive way in which Dasein stands in time, distinctive in virtue of its originary temporality. In a nutshell, Dasein is historical, in that it inherits its possibilities from its forebears and inherits them as already mattering. Dasein’s possibilities are handed down to it by way of tradition. Heidegger’s discussion of historicality may be illuminating for its own sake, but it does not spell out originary temporality itself. (321-322)

As we saw in the preceding section, the three modes of being are all fundamentally structured by modes of time and temporality. These varieties of time are bound together by the complex relations of degeneration and dependence we have explored. Ordinary time is a degenerate form of world-time, and world-time a degenerate form of originary temporality. In some sense, we are learning to see time as ordinarily conceived as a superficial and degraded version of originary temporality. We are learning to see what time “really is.” At its conceptual core – which is not a pared down logical scaffolding, but a fuller whole that makes sense of its degenerate faces – time is originary temporality. Because time is at bottom originary temporality, being is at bottom Dasein’s existence. “Of course, only as long as Dasein is…‘is there’ [‘gibt es’] being” (SZ: 212). This is to say that being at large depends on Dasein. It is not to say, however, that entities depend on Dasein: were all humans to pass from the scene, the stars would not blink out of existence. (323)

Marc Augé “Où est passé l’avenir?”

October 2, 2014 Leave a comment

Augé, Marc 2011. Où est passé l’avenir ? Paris : Éditions du Seuil.

Introduction : Les paradoxes du temps
Le premier paradoxe du temps est inhérent à la conscience que prend l’individu d’exister dans un temps qui a précédé sa naissance et qui continuera après sa mort. Cette prise de conscience individuelle du fini et de l’infini vaut simultanément pour l’individu et pour la société. Car l’individu qui se transforme, qui grandit, puis vieillit avant de disparaître un jour, assiste entre-temps à la naissance et à la croissance des uns, au vieillissement et à la mort des autres. Il vieillit dans un monde qui change, ne serait-ce que parce que les individus qui le composent vieillissent aussi et voient des générations plus jeunes les remplacer progressivement. (9)

Le deuxième paradoxe du temps est presque l’inverse du premier : il tient à la difficulté, pour des hommes mortels, c’est-à-dire tributaires du temps et des idées de commencement et de fin, de penser le monde sans lui imaginer une naissance et lui assigner un terme. Les cosmogonies et les apocalypses, sous diverses modalités, sont une solution imaginaire à cette difficulté. (10)

Le troisième paradoxe du temps trait à son contenu ou, si l’on veut, à l’histoire. C’est le paradoxe de l’événement toujours attendu et toujours redouté. D’un côté, ce sont les événements qui rendent sensible le passage du temps et qui servent même à le dater, à l’ordonner dans une autre perspective que celle du simple recommencement des saisons. Mais, d’un autre côté, l’événement entraîne le risque d’une rupture, d’une coupure irréversible avec le passé, d’une intrusion irrémédiable de la nouveauté sous ses formes les plus périlleuses. (10)

Premier paradoxe : l’histoire, entendue comme source d’idées nouvelles pour la gestion des sociétés humaines, s’arrêterait au moment même où elle concerne explicitement l’humanité en entière. Deuxième paradoxe : nous douterions de notre capacité à influer sur notre destin commun au moment même où la science progresse à une vitesse sans cesse accélérée. Troisième paradoxe : la surabondance sans précédent de nos moyens nous interdirait la pensée des fins, comme si la timidité politique devait être la rançon de l’ambition scientifique et de l’arrogance technologique. (15)

I – Les cultures de l’immanence
Les sociétés polythéistes, qui ont été l’objet d’étude privilégié de la première ethnologie, sont étrangères à tout idée de transcendance et de salut individuel. L’individu humain y est conçu comme la réunion provisoire (le temps d’une vie) d’un certain nombre d’éléments que la mort libère : certains disparaissent, d’autres entrent dans de nouvelles combinaisons, les unes arbitraires, les autres déterminées par les règles de la filiation. (17)

La structure sociale, c’est l’ensemble du réseau des relations possibles et pensables entre les individus appartenant à cet ensemble. La plupart des événements, notamment biologiques (la maladie, la mort), sont interprétés comme le résultat de ce jeu de relations – relations qui sont à la fois des relations de force et des relations structurales, des relations de sens social. (18)

La première caractéristique des « culture de l’immanence », on l’a vu, c’est l’étroite solidarité qu’elles postulent entre corps individuel et corps social, identité et altérité, et par là même entre événement et structure. (21)

II – Changement d’échelle, état des questions et état des lieux
Depuis une ou deux décennies, le présent est devenu hégémonique. Aux yeux du commun des mortels, il n’est plus issu de la lente maturation du passé, ne laisse plus transparaître les linéaments de possibles futurs, mais s’impose un fait accompli, accablant, dont le surgissement soudain escamote le passé et sature l’imagination de l’avenir. (31)

Ce monde du présent est marqué par l’ambivalence de l’impensé et de l’impensable : impensé de la consommation, à l’image d’un présent indépassable caractérisé par la surabondance des objets qu’il nous propose ; impensable de la science, toujours au-delà des technologies qui en sont la retombée. (31-32)

Le monde de la science, quant à lui, est toujours dans le mouvement, aux frontières du connu et de l’inconnu qui déploient leurs orbes variables dans les espaces de l’infiniment petit. Au regard de sa finalité vraie, chaque jour plus explicite – structure de l’univers, origines et mécanismes de la vie –, les technologies qui se referment en boucle autour de la planète ne sont qu’une retombée rassurante et, en ce sens, aliénante. Mais l’indissociable couple science/technologie, pour sa part, ne nous promet que découvertes, déplacement d’horizons et renversements de perspectives. (32)

III – Globalisation, urbanisation, communication, instantanéité
Pour le Pentagone, nous dit Virilio, le global, c’est le système dont je viens de parler, mais considéré de son propre point de vue, du point de vue du système : c’est donc l’intérieur ; et, toujours de ce point de vue, le local devient l’extérieur. Dans le monde global, le globe s’oppose au local comme l’intérieur à l’extérieur. Lorsque Fukuyama évoque la « fin de l’histoire » pour souligner que l’association démocratie représentative/économie libérale est intellectuellement indépassable, il introduit du même coup une opposition entre système et histoire qui reproduit celle du global et du local. Dans le monde global, l’histoire, au sens d’une contestation du système, ne peut venir que de l’extérieur, du local. Le monde global suppose, au moins idéalement, l’effacement des frontières et des contestations au profit d’un réseau de communication instantanée. (41)

Le nouvel espace planétaire existe, mais il n’existe cependant pas d’espace public planétaire. L’espace public, c’est dans lequel se forme l’opinion public. (42)

Une opinion mondiale, ça ne veut pas dire nécessairement une opinion unanime, mais une opinion concernée par le monde entier. De la même manière, une culture mondiale n’est pas une culture homogène ou unique, mais une culture concernée par le monde. (44)

Il n’y a plus d’autre événement que médiatisé. L’expression « événement médiatique » est un pléonasme. […] L’effet pervers des médias, indépendamment de la qualité et des intentions de ceux qui lui dirigent, c’est qu’ils nous apprennent à reconnaître, c’est-à-dire à croire connaître, et non à connaître ou à apprendre. (46)

Autrement dit, les médias jouent aujourd’hui le rôle que jouaient traditionnellement les cosmologies, ces visions du monde qui sont en même temps des visions de la personne et qui créent une apparence de sens en liant étroitement les deux perspectives. Les cosmologies quadrillent l’espace et le temps en les « symbolisant », c’est-à-dire en leur imposant un ordre arbitraire qui s’impose aussi aux relations que les êtres humains entretiennent entre aux et avec le monde. (47)

IV – Contemporanéité et conscience historique
Quant à notre temps, le temps dans lequel nous avons le sentiment de vivre aujourd’hui, c’est un temps accéléré qui nous confronte à trois paradoxes qui vienne s’ajouter à ceux que nous avons cru déjà pouvoir repérer.
Le premier paradoxe, évoqué plus haut, est spatio-temporel. La mesure du temps et de l’espace change. La terre n’est plus q’un point infime par rapport auquel on mesure en années-lumière la distance aux étoiles, mais les changements sont tels, sur terre, que nous aurons besoin de périodes courtes, dorénavant, pour en prendre la mesure.
Le deuxième paradoxe, c’est l’apparition, aujourd’hui, d’un nouvel espace-temps qui semble consacrer la pérennité du présent, comme si l’accélération du temps empêchait d’en percevoir le mouvement. D’où une prégnance de l’espace dans le langage.
[…] La fin de l’histoire, ce n’est pas la fin de l’histoire événementielle, c’est l’affirmation d’un accord supposé général sur le caractère définitif de la formule qui associe économie de marché et démocratie représentative. Le thème de la fin des grands récits s’appliquait pour sa part à la disparition supposée des mythes d’origine particularistes (des cosmogonies propres à un groupe) […]
Le troisième paradoxe, qui prolonge le deuxième, c’est que la nouvelle idéologie du présent est celle d’un monde qui, si l’on faisait un instant abstraction des apparentes évidences diffusées par le système politique et technologique en place, nous apparaîtrait pour ce qu’il est : un monde en plein éruption historique. (56-58)

Les ruines cumulent trop d’histoire pour exprimer une histoire. Ce n’est pas l’histoire qu’elles nous donnent à voir. Ce que nous y percevons, c’est au contraire l’impossibilité d’imaginer complètement ce qu’elles représentaient pour ceux qui les regardaient lorsqu’elles n’étaient pas des ruines. Elle ne disent pas l’histoire, mais le temps, le temps pur. (59)

Ce que nous percevons devant le spectacle des ruines, c’est l’impossibilité d’appréhender l’histoire, une histoire concrète, datée et vécue. La perception esthétique du temps pur est perception d’une absence, d’un manque. (60)

Mais ce que est vrai du passé est peut-être aussi vrai du futur. Le temps pur est indifféremment passé (même s’il n’est pas l’histoire) ou futur (même s’il n’est pas étranger à la prospective ou à la planification). La perception du temps pur, c’est la perception présente d’un manque qui structure le présent en l’orientant vers le passé ou l’avenir. (60)

La pertinence de l’œuvre à son temps passe en effet par des critères éminemment anthropologiques : le rapport de soi à soi, le rapport de soi aux autres et le rapport des uns et des autres au temps qui leur est commun mais qu’ils vivent chacun pour leur part. Les genres littéraires peuvent être, plus aisément que les genres artistiques, situés et définis par rapport à ces trois critères et la forme littéraire n’est, me semble-t-il, que le résultat de leur mise en forme. (68)

La littérature, comme recherche ou découverte de soi et des autres, possède du seul fait de cette dimension une force critique et prospective qui dépasse son objet immédiat. (69)

Edmund Leach “Two Essays Concerning the Symbolic Representation of Time”

September 30, 2014 Leave a comment

Leach, Edmund 1971. Two Essays Concerning the Symbolic Representation of Time. – Leach, Edmund. Rethinking Anthropology. London: The Athlone Press, University of London, 124-136.

[…] it seems to me that our modern English notion of time embraces at least two different kinds of experience which are logically distinct and even contradictory. Firstly, there is the notion of repetition. Whenever we think about measuring time we concern ourselves with some kind of metronome; it may be the ticking of a clock or a pulse beat or the recurrence of days or moons or annual seasons, but always there is something which repeats. Secondly, there is the notion of non-repetition. We are aware that all living things are born, grow old and die, and that this is an irreversible process. (125)

I am inclined to think that all other aspects of time, duration for example or historical sequence, are fairly simple derivatives from these two basic experiences: (a) that certain phenomena of nature repeat themselves (b) that life change is irreversible. (125)

In our conventional way of thinking, every interval of time is marked by repetition; it has a beginning and an end which are ‘the same thing’—the tick of a clock, sunrise, the new moon, New Year’s day . . . but every interval of time is only a section of some larger interval of time which likewise begins and ends in repetition … so, if we think in this way, we must end by supposing that “Time itself” (whatever that is) must repeat itself. (126)

Indeed in some primitive societies it would seem that the time process is not experienced as a ‘succession of epochal durations’ at all; there is no sense of going on and on in the same direction, or round and round the same wheel. On the contrary, time is experienced as something discontinuous, a repetition of repeated reversal, a sequence of oscillations between polar opposites: night and day, winter and summer, drought and flood, age and youth, life and death. In such a scheme the past has no ‘depth’ to it, all past is equally past; it is simply the opposite of now. (126)

My own explanation is of a more structural kind. Frankel (1955) has shown that early Greek ideas about time underwent considerable development. In Homer chronos refers to periods of empty time and is distinguished from periods of activity which are thought of as days (ephemeros). By the time of Pindar this verbal distinction had disappeared, but a tendency to think of time as an ‘alternation between contraries’ active and inactive, good and bad, persisted. It is explicit in Archilochus (seventh century B.C.). In the classical period this idea underwent further development so that in the language of philosophy, time was an oscillation of vitality between two contrasted poles. The argument in Plato’s Phaedo makes this particularly clear. Given this premise, it follows logically that the ‘beginning of time’ occurred at that instant when, out of an initial unity, was created not only polar opposition but also the sexual vitality that oscillates between one and the other—not only God and the Virgin but the Holy Spirit as well (cf. Cornford, 1926). (129)

Most commentators on the Cronus myth have noted simply that Cronus separates Sky from Earth, but in the ideology I have been discussing the creation of time involves more than that. Not only must male be distinguished from female but one must postulate a third element, mobile and vital, which oscillates between the two. It seems clear that the Greeks thought of this third element in explicit concrete form as male semen. Rain is the semen of Zeus; tire the semen of Hephaestos; the offerings to the dead {panspermia) were baskets of seeds mixed up with phallic emblems (Harrison, 1912, 1922); Hermes the messenger of the gods, who takes the soul to Hades and brings back souls from the dead, is himself simply a phallus and a head and nothing more. (129-130)

For men who thought in these terms, ‘the beginning’ would be the creation of contraries, that is to say the creation of male and female not as brother and sister but as husband and wife. My thesis then is that the philosophy of the Phaedo is already implicit in the gory details of the myth of Cronus. The myth is a creation myth, not a story of the beginning of the world, but a story of the beginning of time, of the beginning of becoming. (131)

The oddest thing about time is surely that we have such a concept at all. We experience time, but not with our senses. We don’t see it, or touch it, or smell it, or taste it, or hear it. How then? In three ways:
Firstly we recognize repetition. Drops of water falling from the roof; they are not all the same drop, but different. Yet to recognize them as being different we must first distinguish, and hence define, time-intervals. Time-intervals, durations, always begin and end with ‘the same thing’, a pulse beat, a clock strike, New Year’s Day.
Secondly we recognize aging, entropy. All living things are born, grow old and die. Aging is the irreversible fate of us all. But aging and interval are surely two quite different kinds of experience? I think we lump these two experiences together and describe them both by one name, time, because we would like to believe that in some mystical way birth and death are really the same thing.
Our third experience of time concerns the rate at which time passes. This is tricky. There is good evidence that the biological individual ages at a pace that is ever slowing down in relation to the sequence of stellar time. The feeling that most of us have that the first ten years of childhood ‘lasted much longer’ than the hectic decade 40-50 is no illusion. (132)

[…] the regularity of time is not an intrinsic part of nature; it is a man made notion which we have projected into our environment for our own particular purposes. (133)

Now rites de passage, which are concerned with demarcating the stages 1 in the human life cycle, must clearly be linked with some kind of representation or conceptualization of time. But the only picture of time that could make this death-birth identification logically plausible is a pendulum type concept. […] With a pendulum view of time, the sequence of things is discontinuous; time is a succession of alternations and full stops. Intervals are distinguished, not as the sequential markings on a tape measure, but as repeated opposites, tick-tock tick-tock. And surely our most elementary experiences of time flow are precisely of this kind: day-night day-night; hot-cold hot-cold; wet-dry wet-dry? Despite the word pendulum, this kind of metaphor is not sophisticated; the essence of the matter is not the pendulum but the alternation. I would maintain that the notion that time is a ‘discontinuity of repeated contrasts’ is probably the most elementary and primitive of all ways of regarding time. (133-134)

We talk of measuring time, as if time were a concrete thing waiting to be measured; but in fact we create time by creating intervals in social life. Until we have done this there is no time to be measured. (135)